HRH Leaders in Action: Khamis Khamis
An interview series with HRH champions in developing countries produced by the HRH Global Resource Center. The HRH Leaders in Action series asks leaders to look at HRH leadership.
Khamis Khamis is Head of the Human Resource Division at the Zanzibar Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Tanzania. He has been in this position since 2005, when the division was formed. He serves in an operational role as the head of the Training Unit and as well as in a strategic implementation role as the head of the technical working group. Formerly he was a principal at the College of Health Sciences, from 1988 as the chief administrative officer, and he moved to the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital Referral Hospital in 1996 in a similar role.
What does it mean in Zanzibar to be a leader in human resources for health (HRH)?
In Zanzibar, if you are a leader for human resources for health, it means you are under the departmental planning administration and you are responsible for the administrative activities of its four units: the Continuing Cushion Unit; the Training Unit; the Planning and Legislation Unit; and the Customary Unit.
As an HRH leader, describe the path you took to your current leadership position.
Sometimes when the training officer from the Ministry was away, I did his job. [Later] I was transferred there to take the post as the training officer in the Ministry until [my current] position in the division was formed.
HRH was something new. It never occurred to me that one day I would be head of HR for health. When that position was formed I did not know that the head of the training office could move up to head of all the units, [but] then I was selected.
Could describe some of your mentors and what you have learned from them in the area of HRH?
There was a teacher who was already working at the Ministry who was appointed as planning officer, and then she became of director of planning. This lady who was the director of planning was someone who taught me even when I was a training officer. One of the key things [I learned] is that she did not despair. There were a lot of challenges for her, because at times in our country when the leader is a women, the males seem not to obey her very much. She had a lot of challenges from the men, sometimes open challenges, but she kept going. Another thing was that she was transparent. If you had a problem she would tell you and talk to you openly about it to help resolve it.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I like to involve everyone. If there is anything to be done, I like to involve them, and I am ready to listen. Older men can get advice from the younger. I encourage people to share ideas regardless of position, age or gender.
Describe an achievement in HRH that you are most proud of.
I was involved fully in the situation analysis study for the human resources for health plan. I was there until the implementation of the situation analysis record, the development of the human resource policy and the strategic plan, which is still here. That is one of my achievements. Another thing that I remember is when we asked for support in the implementation of that plan, we sought help from USAID, and through the Capacity Project we started working as an implementation partner.
What is the biggest HRH challenge you are facing right now? How are you approaching it?
Although [team members] are ready, the vehicle is not running as a single unit. There is a lot of coordination I want [to implement], and some etiquette communication between those units—because if I want to know what is happening, I have to go and ask someone, "What is this?" There is no channel of communication.
One of the problems is that we used to have a monthly meeting for planning, in which every part from the HR division—all the units within the department—would meet and everyone discussed their achievements, but that is not [currently] going on. Our leaders seem to be so busy.
What are you doing to maintain motivation within your staff and the people who work within the HRH division?
One of the things I need to do [is] have at least a monthly meeting. As I said, when there is something [urgent] they come, but there is no planning, so we have to meet regularly and share and inform each other [about] what is happening. Another thing we need to do, at least in the division itself, is to provide job descriptions for the people within HRH.
What is the overreaching document or strategy that is guiding your function?
The health sector reform strategic plan. Within this plan there is formation of the four technical working groups. There is a documented area where there is the description of the director of planning, head of the human resources division and others also in the health sector human resources for health planning.
Perhaps you can talk about the challenges serving as the director of HRH and the training unit and the head of HRH technical working group.
The Training Unit on the mainland [as opposed to Zanzibar] is divided into units where they have at least, five people working, and there is another area where they have allied help from nursing. There was a time when our Training Unit was fully staffed. But now I find that I am alone—[although] I have my assistant who is new—so apart from other duties [I] have people seeking advice or looking for training opportunities…. With the Training Unit itself, there is a need for at least two people. With the HR division it is [additional] work.
Where do you look for your own inspiration?
One of the things that helps me is that I was a teacher before. I am very happy to see my students. They move up and progress. Most of them work here. That gives me a special opportunity to work with them. Also whenever some of them have problems they come to ask for help, and even the Ministry is satisfied.
[Sometimes outside the office] someone calls to me, “Khamis, hello, thank you because we have heard about this.” People keep coming—even at home—seeking information and advice. I think people are satisfied with what I am doing. I feel good that people recognize and accept and still come to seek advice.
What would you list as some of the biggest challenges or barriers to the decentralization of the health care system in Zanzibar?
Some of the challenges mean accepting change, because the Ministry is used to deciding things for other people. For example, the assistance is at the district level. They are sending everything there and moving responsibility from our Ministry to people in the [district-level] roles. Now it comes that we will have to let people decide. Seeking changes because of decentralization means moving responsibility from our Ministry to the district level. Those people need to be prepared.
Is there anything else you would like to share in terms of experience, advice or recommendations for people in a similar role?
Change is always occurring. People should accept change. The support we get is only for a time period to enable the people themselves to be able to stand up. The support will not be forever. There needs to be an aspect of commitment to be here, and they should be committed to their work, accept changes and accept responsibility until the work is done. We need support and guidance on how to do this. People need to feel like this is working.
Visit the Capacity Project website to read a related discussion with Khamis Khamis on Zanzibar’s efforts to improve health worker efficiency.